The Swedish government will imprison food cheaters

Olive oil. Illustration
Olive oil is expensive and exclusive, and often prone to fraud.
By Reidar Molthe

19 April 2018 09:26

The Swedish government will imprison food cheaters

Karin Brynell, CEO for the trade association Svensk Dagligvarehandel, supports a proposal for imprisonment for food cheating, but she believes that food control should have more resources. A new law will have minimal effect if it is not followed up by more resources, she believes.

The number of cases of food fraud has increased in Sweden in recent years. Last year, the Swedish Food Administration reported about 100 cases of cheating with food only in Sweden, and the number is rising, reports Dansk Handelsblad (in Danish).

A major problem is also that most police investigations are being put down. Violation of food law only imposes fines and is low priority. The risk of getting caught is therefore minimal and the profits are greater than any fines.

Imprisonment for two years

This trouble the government in Sweden and it therefore suggests that serious food scams should be liable to imprisonment for up to two years.

Svensk Dagligvarehandel (Swedish Grocery Trade), an industry organization for the Swedish grocery stores, supports the proposal, but CEO Karin Brynell, think that the new legislation is not enough.

"Should the new law have a real effect, more resources are needed for food control. Many municipalities cannot handle their control tasks today," she says.

Among the cases of maladministration registered are several cases of expiry date fraud, incorrect description of origin of fresh foods, cheating with the specified content in ready meals and incorrect description of food additives.It has affected consumer confidence in the Swedish grocery stores.

The frauds are revealed as organized crime, but nobody knows how extensive the fraud with food really is.

Coordination is necessary

The Swedish government is serious about food fraud, which can not only have serious consequences for the consumer, but also affect the confidence in the food industry. By increasing the penalty to violate food law, the government hopes to be able to stop the rising number of food fraud cases.

But it is the municipalities that are responsible for the supervision of food companies in Sweden, and according to Karin Brynell, coordination between the municipalities is lacking (

"Unfortunately, today it's too easy to get away with food fraud. This is due, inter alia, to the lack of cooperation between the municipalities, which have many different approaches to the pursuit of food cheaters. A better coordination is necessary," says Karin Brynell.

Hence, she believes that food control should have more resources to work more focused with so-called high-risk categories.

"More resources must ensure coordinated and targeted controls based on a risk assessment of different specific product categories, where experience shows that there is or may be fraud. For example, it may be olive oil, alcohol, honey and spices," she says.

Up to two years imprisonment

According to the proposed law in Sweden, serious crimes with food, feed and animal by-products should be punished with imprisonment for up to two years. In case of minor administrative crimes, fines of up to 100,000 Swedish kronor may be imposed.

“It is good that the penalty frame is sharpened. But the big challenge is to find the criminals. Often it is about imports, and there are many actors in a long food chain and maybe in different countries needed to trace down,” says Karin Brynell.

When imprisonment becomes part of the penalty framework, it will also be possible to place warehouses in custody and search them. This makes investigation easier for the police. The bill is being considered by the Swedish Parliament, and if it receives a majority vote, it is expected to come into force from January 2019.

Dark figures are high

Trade in foodstuffs is a growing source of income for criminal organizations and companies. The fraud is estimated at about SEK 400 billion a year in the world, according to

In Sweden there are no corresponding figures, but the Swedish Food and Drug Administration in Uppsala believes that the dark figures are high, very high.

According to the European Parliament's Committee on Environment and Health, the 10 most common foods cheated with are olive oil, fish, organic produce, milk, cereals, honey and syrup, coffee and tea, spices, wine and fruit juices.

Interpol states that they see links with the Italian mafia and other criminal networks. But even food companies and restaurants deal with counterfeit food.

Products that customers are prepared to pay a little more for are most exposed. It can be fruit and vegetables that are sprayed but are sold as organic, foreign meat, which is labelled with a Swedish eco-label or products manipulated with chemicals to make the food look more attractive.

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